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Cellular elements for ensemble based programmable matter


TECHNOLOGY AREAS: Materials/Processes, Sensors

OBJECTIVE:  Design, development, and fabrication of functional units that can serve as the “cellular” elements in an ensemble based mesoscopic interpretation towards an eventual programmable matter.

DESCRIPTION:  Computer science has provided a strong theoretical foundation for the concept of programmable ensemble based matter: a form of matter created from massive numbers (>10^9) of nearly homogeneous units where the individual units are small enough that the ensemble functionally appears to be a uniform material. Each individual unit is required to take on those properties necessary for it to operate within the ensemble including:

1. A physical structure under 0.1 cubic millimeter with no dimension greater than 700 micrometers

2. The ability to collect/scavenge energy from external sources (chemical, physical, or electromagnetic), store the energy as needed for the operations of the individual unit, and distribute energy to nearby units.

3. The ability to selectively modify the chemical, physical, electrical, or magnetic properties of the structures surface to enable selective adhesion, separation, and/or actuation relative to similar structures.

4. The ability to download, store, and execute a program sequence.

5. The ability to communicate with nearby units at the level required for a group of units to operate collectively towards achieving goals such as forming shapes, controlling lattice structure and spacing, and achieving collective motion.

6. The ability to specialize based on physical, chemical, or electrical modification.

Of interest for this particular topic, are nano- or micro- processes for fabricating units that provide the functionality detailed in the six items above. It is also desired that the process can be scaled down over time to achieve units at a size as small as 0.001cubic millimeters with no dimension greater than 150 micrometers. It is essential that these processes provide a low cost approach for the fabrication of billions of units. Approaches based on either batch fabrication, novel nanofabrication (such as nanomembranes or nano-imprint) or bottom up assembly are both acceptable provided they can achieve extremely low cost and high volume fabrication.

It is currently believed that the final complex cellular unit will require a hybrid approach with one or more of the six items above provided by differing fabrication processes. These separately fabricated functional elements would then need to be assembled to form the complex cellular unit.

PHASE I:  Detail an effective system architecture that embodies critical functions (i.e., power, signal, heat, mechanism, etc) & define a credible process for achieving the fabrication of the cellular units. Take convincing steps towards the experimental demo of the associated fab processes of the unit at the desired scale using the proposed approach.

PHASE II:  Fabricate and demonstrate prototypes of cellular units at the size detailed in item (1) above, and demonstrate the ability to form scalable ensembles of these units.


Military Application:  This work will create an innovative dynamic form of matter with application in software-defined reconfigurable antennas and sensors, 3D-displays, and surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

Commercial Application:  Applications of programmable based matter will include a new type of displaying media, communication and visualization systems, medicine, biology, a software-defined 3D-modeling.

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